Yankee benefits rally from Alex Kratz on Vimeo.
“We are here because there is a disconnect between the world we live in of the South Bronx and the world of justice and equality,” said Lydia Lebron (see video above), pastor of the Resurrection United Methodist Church in the South Bronx, at a rally outside of Yankee Stadium last week.
Representatives from the For the South Bronx Coalition (4DSBXCoalition), the Urban Justice Center, and the Freedom Party joined Lebron in demanding data from the Yankees baseball club that accounts for commitments the club made in signing a Community Benefits Agreement in 2006. The activists presented their demands to Yankees President Randy Levine in a seven-page letter. (BxNN friend and stadium expert Neil deMause wrote about this last week for the Village Voice's blog.)
The Community Benefits Agreement, signed by Levine, former Borough President Adolfo Carrion, and Council members Maria Baez (who is no longer in office), Joel Rivera and Maria Del Carmen Arroyo in April 2006, said the Yankees would give 25% of stadium construction contracts to Bronx businesses, make sure 25% of construction jobs went to Bronxites, and award 25% of post-construction jobs to Bronxites.
As part of the agreement, the Yankees also created a Community Benefits Fund, controlled by a volunteer board, that would give out $800,000 a year in grants to local community groups, $100,000 a year in equipment and merchandise, and 15,000 free game tickets.While some of these grants, merchandise and tickets have been distributed, activists at the rally said much of it remains unaccounted for.
“The purpose of the money is to offset the cost of the stadium and the traffic and pollution surrounding it,” said Harvey Epstein, director of the Community Development Project at the Urban Justice Center. Epstein, along with the coalition, is interested in seeing the designated money go to “local social services, local parks, local food pantries, and other local community centers.”
The Yankees did not immediately return calls and e-mails seeking comment and the Benefits Fund could not be reached by publication of this article.
According to the various groups in attendance, the team’s progress thus far has been dubious. “Not enough was done to ensure that they lived up to those promises,” said Robert Carrillo (pictured, speaking), Chair of the 4DSBxCoalition. “We need to get the data.”
Daniela Perez, who is on the Board of the 4DSBxCoalition, called past attempts to communicate with the Yankees “unsuccessful.” “We’ve been at this for a year. The South Bronx Coalition began to attack this issue that no one was looking at,” she said. “We’ve already sent several letters, there’s been no response. [In past demonstrations in front of the stadium] no one comes to see us, no one comes out.”
For Perez and others awaiting answers, the rally last week was the final straw. “Today is like, ‘Okay. This is it,’” Perez said.
Representatives of the coalition and the Urban Justice Center plan to file a lawsuit if the Yankees do not provide the data requested in their seven-page letter within 30 days.
Ramon Jimenez, one of the original founders of the Coalition, predicts that the action will indeed, “result in a lawsuit.”
“The Yankees are totally uncooperative," he said in an interview. "They are unwilling to sit at the table. They are unwilling to provide info.”
Later, when he addressed the crowd, Jimenez questioned the corporation’s motives. “If the Yankees weren’t lying, they would give us information,” he said.
Although the Yanks haven’t coughed up any answers yet, Epstein is confident that the data will come. “We are taking whatever necessary steps available,” he said after his demonstration. “In the end, it will be successful. It’s just a question of how long it takes.”